*I was actually saving my story about my shop, Circa, for my book but I decided, what the hell, I’ll share it now with all of you. So this is an actual excerpt from my book titled, And So It Is.
I used to have a shop. A chic little antique shop named Circa in Santa Barbara, California. My father ponied up all the money for it as hush money. Apparently, unbeknownst to our entire family, yet known to the rest of the world, my father was in the midst of an eight year long affair with a woman named Laura. So gross. My father thought it would be a good idea (a brilliant idea) if he handed over copious amounts of cash so that my mother would go to France for weeks at a time on buying trips and then dive wholeheartedly into opening a shop, thus distracting her from her deteriorating marriage. It worked… For a while.
My mother and I had always wanted to open a shop. We had the exact same taste, same style and same aesthetic. We were both great buyers and she was great at merchandising that which we bought and then in turn, I was a great salesperson. We decided, first things first, we needed to go on a buying trip in France. Paris was the first stop. We decided that our modus operandi would be to only buy that which we would have in our own homes and not just buy something that we knew would sell. Not speaking a word of French yet years of experience bargaining, off to the Marche aux Puces we went. The Puces is the mecca of flea markets in France. Armed with our vision for the shop, we spent two weeks curating our inventory. We did not do this alone… No, no, no. We had little Gracie to help. Still in elementary school, Gracie followed us to every booth, every stall and documented every item that we bought, its provenance, and the price. She did all of this in skinny jeans and Ugg boots. My mother, never without a chocolate croissant in hand, and I swept through the flea market with precision and a definitive mission. By the end of the two weeks we had acquired 19th-century leather Italian dining chairs, Moroccan side chairs, monastery chandeliers, plaster friezes, plaster busts, 19th-century green faience, altar sticks, candlesticks, gilt 19th-century mirrors, statues, Napoleon III chaise longes, rock crystal chandeliers, paintings, desks, chest of drawers, settees, banquettes, and every little accessory that we could get our overly excited paws on.
After Paris, we proceeded to politely pillage our way through the flea markets of L'isle-sur-la-Sorgue, France, asking my father for an increase in our budget as we had already blown our allotted wad in Paris. My philandering father agreed, not surprisingly. What we discovered about the flea markets in this little town was that it was better than Paris! It was as if we had cut out the middleman. The items were more unique and the prices were even better. Gracie continued her services not begrudgingly because she knew there was a prize at the end.… A new dress from Bonpoint. My child can be bought. During some of our more lengthy negotiations with some of the vendors, Gracie would use this opportunity to do her homework and I could not have been more proud of her. Gracie, to this day, still reminds me of how I “forced her to work full-time and continue her schoolwork at the tender age of 12.” My retort? “It’s called experience, look it up.”
This is me trolling through the Marche aux Puces. Jesus Christ, I look fat!
After everything was bought, paid for and organized on the shipping container, all we could do was… Wait. The shipping estimated time was two months. This was fine with us because we had one slight problem. We had no shop yet. After months of searching for a suitable shop, we were continually left with disappointment. Nothing spoke to us. It was either the wrong building, too big, too small or too ugly. Until one day. One day the antique gods smiled upon us and we were notified that our favorite little building in Santa Barbara/Montecito was up for rent. We jumped on it immediately. It was ridiculously expensive and on top of that needed some remodeling. Who cares? I guess that’s the price my father had to pay to have a dual life. My mother and I set to work the very first day making the shop our own. The first floor we decided would be our Parisian salon with black lacquered walls, a fireplace, black and white hardwood floors, bookcases trimmed with gold leaf, gilt mirrors, paintings and all of our trés chic Parisian findings. My mother and I know how to roll up our sleeves and get dirty. The entire neighborhood hated us from day one because the overwhelming scent of lacquer wafting from our shop for an entire week is not exactly pleasant especially with a bustling restaurant next door. Then came the paint fumes from the hand-painted black and white floors. I could remember being down on my hands and knees with a teeny tiny paintbrush touching up the floors on the eve of our opening party nearly fainting from the fumes. The second floor was dedicated to our Italian finds. We hired our brilliant painter, Enrique, to paint the walls an ocre teint to complement our Italian leather chairs, colorful paisley fabrics, Anichini hand towels with 12 inch fringe, and antique Tuscan furniture. We decided that the awnings for the exterior windows should mimic those of our beloved Palais-Royale in Paris. Mission accomplished. After a month of interior work, the shop was ready. Perfect timing because we received a notification that our container would be in my mother’s driveway the following week with an allotted time of two hours to empty the entire container!
As promised, before dawn on a foggy Saturday morning in Santa Barbara, our container arrived. Unbeknownst to me, containers do not arrive with 12 men with white glove service. Quite the opposite. We were on our own to unload, unpack, cross reference the purchases, and organize everything by ourselves! Not five minutes later did my mother give the gardeners new job descriptions. They were now antique movers. After a lot of screaming, yelling, threatening, and bossy behavior, the container was unloaded and was now in the middle of the driveway. Gracie, in her pajamas, continued her work and expertly checked in every piece of furniture. To our amazement, nothing was lost and nothing was broken. Shipping miracle.
When it comes to decorating, my mother is like an idiot savant. When she is in this mode, the best thing to do is just leave her alone. She had a vision for the shop and I knew that it would be brilliant when she had finished. She single-handedly with one worker, moved furniture, laid rugs, hung mirrors, chandeliers, paintings and drapes, designed vignettes, and overnight… Voilà! Circa was born.
Our next project was to design our ad for Santa Barbara Magazine. This ad needed to set the tone for our shop. After weeks of failure, I told my mother I needed to be alone to figure this out. As usual, a stroke of genius came to me. Keep it simple, stupid. Keep it simple, stupid. Yes! This is what I needed to do so I decided to use a completely unplanned, esoteric, organic photo of Gracie that I had taken on a whim in the Palais-Royale in Paris. If I do say so myself, I thought it was rather brilliant. It looked French, exciting and fun. Doors would open October 1, 2008.
Our ads and article for my favorite Santa Barbara Magazine.
With respects to our friends and family, we decided to have a private opening party so they could see the shop and have first dibs on the merchandise. We decided on an evening soirée, French style. I hired waiters and waitresses and dressed them in historical French costumes. French music played as guests sipped champagne from coupe glasses. Baby lamb chops were served with miniature French onion soup and tomatoes/mozzarella/basil salad. For dessert, authentic French macaroons, of course. The party was a success and during the party we managed one sale… $11,000 worth of dishes. Champagne combined with shopping is always a good idea.
My mother and I. Look! I can walk!
Isn't my mother pretty?
The amazing flowers were half the party budget.
I can spot lots of friends, a couple of douche bags and a couple of famous musicians, can you?
My handsome husband, David.
Gracie ( with braces in her awkward phase ) and I. Don't tell Gracie that I put this picture up. I think she looks adorable.
My friend, Jean... one of the chicest women in Santa Barbara.
Yolanda Foster, David Foster and I.
I painted these floors.
Our white peacock, Ursula.
After working into the wee hours of the night, cleaning up after the party and getting ready for our grand opening the very next morning, I realized that I had fulfilled a dream. A dream to have my own shop, with my own merchandise, with my own aesthetic and on my own terms. I felt lucky, privileged, grateful and excited for the future. Circa was a dream realized. Sales were stellar and I could hardly keep up with inventory as it was flying out of the doors. I sold my little heart out. I think my success lied in the fact that I loved each and every object at our shop and conveyed that love to the customers. My enthusiasm paid off. Circa was extremely successful. However, over the next two years the economy crashed and the highfalutin customers were no longer. Everyone was on a budget. Gross. There was no way I was going to just give away our merchandise so we decided to close the shop and take everything home. This decision was compounded by the fact my father was involved in some shady business dealings and the shop was threatened with lawsuits. Thanks, Dad. Circa was closed in 2009 but not without great memories and a lifetime of experience.
So that is the history of Circa. Tomorrow, in Part 2, let’s take a stroll down Circa memory lane and take a look at the actual merchandise in the shop! So fun, so fun!Photos by Wendy Jenson and Santa Barbara Magazine and me.